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Oct 22, 2015

'Jersey Boys' returns to the Peace Center

Spartanburg Herald Journal

By Dan Armonaitis

Barely two years has passed since the touring production of “Jersey Boys” last came to the Upstate, and the Tony Award-winning musical is already making a much-anticipated return.

“Jersey Boys” will open Tuesday and run through Nov. 1 at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, where it played to multiple sold-out audiences in July 2013.

“Repetition is the highest form of flattery when it comes to the theater, people coming back to see your show again and again,” said Rick Elice, who co-wrote “Jersey Boys” with Academy Award winner Marshall Brickman.

“The only way shows continue to move along is when people become fanatical — not just fans but fanatics," he continued. "'Jersey Boys' has certainly got its share of people who love the songs so much that they just keep coming back to see the show.”

Given that the musical is based on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it's no wonder people like the songs so much. “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don't Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Can't Take My Eyes Off You” and “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” are among the band's classics featured in the show.

But “Jersey Boys” is hardly a jukebox musical. Unlike many rock 'n' roll themed Broadway productions that have a flimsy narrative built around the songs, the show has a gritty storyline that's full of gut-wrenching drama.

“I think the songs get (people) into the theater, but the story is what sets the show apart,” Elice said. “After all, you could just listen to the records in the privacy of your own house. But the story of what happened to these guys is fascinating, and it was a story that wasn't generally known.”

That is, until “Jersey Boys” came along to offer a no-holds-barred account of the Four Seasons' rags-to-riches journey. The show, which premiered in 2004 at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego before opening on Broadway a year later, covers everything from juvenile delinquency and dealings with the Mafia to the group's string of chart-topping singles.

“The songs are very familiar, but the people who made the songs and sang the songs and cut the records were sort of forgotten,” Elice said. “Their stories were never told because they didn't have long hair, they didn't have exotic accents, they didn't come across the pond (and) they weren't part of the British Invasion (so) they didn't sell magazines.”

The members of the Four Seasons — Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi — were tough guys from the wrong side of the tracks whose songs had a blue-collar aesthetic.

“Instead of being songs written for girls about love, theirs were songs written for guys about girls,” Elice said. “I think a real eureka moment when it came to writing the show was when we realized that the story needed to have some real testosterone to it.

“It's a very, very masculine evening (about) this band of brothers and what they have to go through to make it in the world and then try to stay in a place where they can be successful.”

The touring cast features Aaron DeJesus as Valli, Drew Seeley as Gaudio, Matthew Dailey as DeVito and Keith Hines as Massi. Other principle cast members are Barry Anderson as producer/songwriter Bob Crewe and Thomas Fiscella as mob boss Gyp DeCarlo.

“Jersey Boys” is directed by two-time Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff and written by Brickman and Elice, with music by Gaudio, lyrics by Crewe and choreography by Sergio Trujillo.

Elice, a New York native, described having the opportunity to work with Brickman, best known for his screenwriting collaborations with Woody Allen, including “Annie Hall,” as “the great privilege of my life.”

He said neither of them could have imagined the success of “Jersey Boys” when they accepted an invitation to have a business luncheon with Valli and Gaudio to discuss the possibility of a musical more than a decade ago.

“We were at the restaurant, waiting for the food to arrive, and, just by way of conversation, we said, 'So, what was it like growing up in New Jersey?'” Elice recalled. “And they started to tell us, and by the time the food came, we weren't sitting back in our chairs thinking, 'Gee, how long is this lunch going to go on for?'

“We were leaning forward, thinking, 'Wow, this is really good, this is really interesting.' … What's better than a true story is a good story that happens to be true, and what's best of all is an untold story that's a good story that happens to be true. So, Marshall and I, we were in from that moment on.”

That “Jersey Boys” went on to win a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2006 was the icing on the cake for Elice, who said all he ever wanted to do was work in the theater business.

“The very first show that I saw when I was a little boy — 3 years old — was 'My Fair Lady,' and the woman who was starring in it was Julie Andrews,” Elice said. “And on that night in 2006 when the envelopes opened and 'Jersey Boys' was (announced) as the winner, the envelope was opened by Julie Andrews.

“So, for me, it was especially overwhelming. It was great that it was her because she was there at the beginning of my theater life and she was there for the greatest night of my theater life.”